Shit gets hard.
Sometimes you’ll be lonely and want to cry. You’ll worry for the soul of the world. And you feel there is nothing you can do.
Part of the wonderful curse of being human is being able to understand things that are so much larger than we are. It’s easy, and dangerous, to believe that an individual’s power can make only a minuscule difference.
Climate change especially wrecks me. I recycle, I’m thrifty with my electrical spending, I switched to a mostly vegan diet, I’ve participated in protests, and I help out in a local climate activism group, but that’s really all I can do. That’s tiny compared to our problem. So my heart breaks. It breaks for the trees, the bees, and all the children to come. Our generation is not stepping up, and future generations are going to suffer for it.
The coronavirus challenges are similar. I wear a mask in public, stay home as much as possible, and wash my hands. There are so many families grieving loved ones that they didn’t get to see in their final days in the hospital. There are doctors in Russia, jumping from windows to execute themselves because this situation has pushed them past their emotional limits. Children’s lives are being turned upside down by sudden quarantine, and high school and college graduates have had lifelong dreams stripped away from them, not even able to walk across the stage at graduation or go to prom. Me keeping my hands clean does very little to help them.
Shit gets hard, indeed. And on a global scale, it’s easy to believe that our personal choices and actions have absolutely no impact. That is one of the most dangerous assumptions of the modern age. As we become able to examine things at greater and greater scales, we lift personal responsibility from ourselves because one person’s actions are irrelevant in the face of the behavior of every other person. But this isn’t true. Not remotely. Every person’s actions influence other people’s actions. Humans are social, and our behavior is contagious. Inaction is just as infectious as positive change, and both make a difference in these horrendous global issues, making things better or worse, depending on your choices.
Don’t say, “My actions don’t matter.” Every person who sees you do something good is influenced to make positive choices, themselves. Every person who sets a good example causes another person to make better choices, and then they set a positive example to others, too, and it flows from you down a whole string of people whose names you’ll never know. You won’t even know these people exist, but they’ll be following your example! That’s why your personal behavior in the world is so crucially influential. Behavior is contagious.
Nobody gets to sit out on life. Life forces its way in.
Make your choices worth something. Lead by example, even if you’re only setting an example for one or two people. There is no way of knowing how far beyond yourself your positive behavior will stretch.
There are lots of ways to make the world better with almost no effort. They all set examples. You can wear a mask in public. (Remember, we don’t wear masks to protect ourselves, we wear masks because we care about the safety of other people.) You could say something kind to a stranger. You could let someone cut in front of you at the store. You can recycle. You can use canvas bags for your shopping. You could observe Meatless Mondays to combat climate change. You can call someone and tell them you love them and are thinking of them. You can organize a Zoom happy hour or dance party. You can post positive, lighthearted, sweet, or uplifting things on social media. You can do a chore when it’s not your turn. You can teach your children how to cook. Most of these actions are free.
Shit gets hard. But we can’t let ourselves fall into the trap of “I’m only one person; I don’t make a difference,” because if everyone thinks that way, the whole world will fail. Personally, I don’t think we’re in a place as a world that we should be proud of. We’ve got a lot going on that needs addressing. But our governments across the globe aren’t the only ones that need to change. We need to take personal responsibility, as individuals, for every action in our lives. You are fully responsible for (almost all) your choices. It’s up to you to make good decisions. When the people around you become poisonous, you must set an example. Don’t fall into the trap of hatred. Yes, we must be intolerant of intolerance in order to maintain a tolerant society. No one should love Nazis or the alt-right. I’m saying, please shine your light on the positive things and try to make the world better in small ways. Try to make people feel better about life. Try to be ethical and make good choices. You already know the difference between right and wrong. Use your moral compass to guide even your small decisions, like what you cook for dinner or who you talk to in a day. I promise it makes a difference, even when it seems like the people around you aren’t trying at all. You will infect others with wise behavior.
We only get better together if we’re getting better individually. Do your part to make the world better. That’s all anyone could ask of you. Your sphere of influence is larger and more powerful than you think, and you have a responsibility to try.
Your choices matter. Deeply.
Don’t give up on our world.
We can do this.
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